The Washington State Department of Ecology will hold off another year on proposing a water-management rule for the Dungeness Valley watershed.
The department entered into a new agreement with stakeholders Feb. 15, identifying five goals to help shape the drafting of a Dungeness water management rule.
Clallam County commissioners approved the agreement last week and signed on along with the Dungeness Water Users Association. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, which will form its own government-to-government agreement with Ecology, sent a letter of support for the efforts to improve water supply and restore stream flows in the watershed.
Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said local collabora-tion is important to develop-ing smart water management.
“This agreement is critically important to the future of the watershed, not only because it protects stream flows but also because of its emphasis on restoring stream flows in the Dungeness River and some streams,” Sturdevant said. “We recognize the benefits of hitting the pause button on rule making and creating time and space for local leaders to seek out and negotiate new water supply projects that could benefit all partners.”
Gary Smith, director of the Dungeness Water Users Association, supports the agreement and signed on behalf of the group.
“The additional time will allow us to move from a process of allocating water supplies toward a process that will, more dependably, assure future water supplies for domestic and agricultural uses while we address improvement for fish habitat,” he said.
Marguerite Glover, of Sequim, spoke against the agreement at the commissioners’ meeting. She read a letter she wrote to the commissioners.
“Back in the good old days, in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, through flood irrigation and leaky irrigation ditches, we kept the upper aquifer full of water,” she said, later citing a March 2009 report blaming irrigation conservation for reduced groundwater discharge.
In the 1980s and 1990s, two groups working on water management recommended off-channel water storage and drilling deeper wells, she said.
“Yet, two decades later, after spending lots of money on more consultants, meetings with paid facilitators, studies, etc., we haven’t done much of this,” she said.
Glover said she objects to an agreement with the Department of Ecology and questioned how it would affect people’s rights.
Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger, who joined the meeting via phone from Olympia, said the purpose of the agreement is to bring the different groups together to look at the problem of low water levels in the river during the late season.
“There’s kind of a jihad against Ecology,” he said.
The Department of Ecology needs to be involved because ultimately it has to make and implement the rule, he said.
Commissioner Mike Chapman said he supported the agreement and saw the importance of local participation with the state agency.
“Representatives of our community are working with state agencies and have been for a number of years,” he said. “Everyone has been working hard so we don’t just let the state tell us how to manage a resource that is in short supply.”
On Monday, Tharinger said the City of Sequim, Clallam County Public Utility District and local irrigators also will be included in the discussions.
“The challenges we’ve gone through with all the watershed planning and developing the rule was just to ask: ‘How will we get water into the river during the late season flow?’” he said. “We’ve never really been able to answer that question.”
For more information on Dungeness water management, go to www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.